If you were in the Wild West, hearing the word branding would make you to think about ownership markings on livestock. Or about the markings on an old, oak whiskey barrel, to show it’s the real deal, to show authenticity. Whereas now, brand and branding are used as a concept to depict everything that a company believes in and what it stands for.
Understanding this concept and how can it depict something so complex as what a company stands for is where the money is at.
Almost everyone understands how important advertising and marketing is. I for one, can’t remember a day since I can remember days, where I haven’t seen an advertisement for something.
Even when I went hiking, up in the mountains, where the only human-made things were the signs along the trails, even then I was advertised at.
All the signs had the name and logo of a local woodworking company on the back.
This stuck with me and when I got back to civilization I reached out to that company. It didn’t seem to me like an efficient way to advertise to people so I was intrigued as to why they were doing it.
The answer was confusing at that time, but now it’s clear.
An NGO approached them and asked for an offer on how much it will cost to make all those signs. They said they’ll do it for free and only asked to have their name and logo on the back.
A quick answer was received: “Yes, of course!”.
Why did they chose to lose revenue from such a hot lead and do something pro bono instead?
Because they love nature and like to help people. It’s what they stand for.
They recognize the beauty that lies in nature and know that hikers mostly feel the same. Thus, they are directly reaching to a group of people that fit with their customer profiles and indirectly letting them know that they share the same set of values and love the same things. They lost the revenue from one project, but opened the doors for many more.
That’s what a brand is all about. The company was doing something good for everyone, and at the same time building trust with possible customers.
Branding is not a logo, or name, marketing strategy or visual identity.
Branding is an instinct, a gut feeling that you can evoke into someone when talking about your company.
I will always associate the woodworking company with how I felt during that escape in nature. Even though I have no idea how their work compares to their competition, I know I’ll call then whenever I’ll need something they make. They made a lasting impression on me with what they did, to the extent that I’m even willing to pay them a higher price for the same thing I know I can get from somewhere else.
I promised examples for why branding is important, so here they are. We’ll build on these real-life cases so you can better understand what branding is all about.
Before being the colossus they are now, Apple started in a garage in 1976. They didn’t have much but promised plentiful. The vision of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the two co-founders, was embodied in their company and people jumped in because they liked what the company had to offer, what it stood for and trusted that Apple would make true of their promises and turn their common vision into reality.
This is what attracted people and what made so many in love with their products. By not appealing to the rational side, but to the emotional side. This core value was then expressed by different channels, like their “Think different” slogan.
“Think different” so you “can change the world for the better.”
Said with the words of Rob Siltanen who was at that time, creative director of TBWA\Chiat\Day, the advertising agency that created those comercials:
Not that the products themselves were not good enough to convince people to buy them. On the contrary. When first launched, the Apple 2 shocked the world at the 1972 West Coast Computer Fair.
However, looking at the bigger picture that became more obvious over the years, Apple managed to create a devoted following by captivating the customer’s feelings. And when new products came along, those previously hooked started buying, with passion.
The Coca-Cola Company
“Coca-Cola” is one of the most recognized terms in all languages, up there with “Okay”, “coffee” or “haha“. This fact alone says a lot about their worldwide success and incredible brand recognition, yet adding to it, over 94% of the people in the world recognize their iconic two color combination.
What’s their secret?
Associating their brand with good feelings:
Uniting the world
But these examples are visual, commercials, part of the marketing strategy. And I previously said that branding is not visual.
Well, you still need a medium to express what the brand actually is. In this case, it was through commercials that Coca-Cola expressed what they stand for. Thus, they made their marketing strategy fit with their brand identity and used it to express the company’s personality.
The same way you can refer to a finger as part of your hand, but not actually your hand.
Same goes for marketing and branding.
A common theme in their commercials is celebrating great athletes and encouraging athletic feats. They show strong examples of success, excellence and how hard work is getting results so you can instinctually relive those feelings the next time you hear about them. Preferably when you are buying sporting gear.
They want you to associate those feelings with their brand because they know that all of us want to succeed and be excellent at something.
This is best expressed through this commercial:
This quote stands out because of the context when the ad appeared.
Colin Kaepernick was at the center of a controversy involving kneeling during the national anthem. This controversy has split people into two sides. One that is supportive of the reasoning behind the gesture and the other that considered it disrespectful. Using him and his image for a commercial meant taking sides with the first group and thus, moving away from the other.
Nike chose to express how the company feels about the national anthem protests and what they stood for. They chose to express their values and beliefs so their customers know to trust them even more, or not to be their customers anymore if their views don’t align.
What do all these have in common?
They all evoke strong feelings.
We like to think that, as humans, we are analytical. We make calculated decisions and take calculated risks. But more often than not, we are instinctual and put more weight into what our subconscious has to say that we even realize.
One of the most important feelings that we can evoke in our customers is the feeling of trust. There may be a complex set of reasons for why each one of them ended up as our customer, but they all have something in common.
They believe in what you stand for and thus, trust you.
No trade or purchase or service exchange would ever happen if there’s no trust between the two parties.
Trust is a strong feeling that has its roots in belief.
In one of his Ted Talks, Simon Sinek talked about why trust is so important. One quote is especially relevant for understanding what branding really is and how it correlates to trust:
If you manage to channel and express your companies beliefs, customers with the same beliefs will find you and will stick around. Trust will be established and the grounds for loyal, long-term customers are there.
Overall, the idea of branding can be resumed by:
A way for a company to convey its personality, values, and beliefs by running everything through a single filter and ending up with an unique voice.
You can then take any public statement, ad, campaign, even job descriptions and run them through this filter. The result will be a company that is standing to its core values in any situation.
What do you do with that filter, once you managed to build it? How can you use it to forward your business and be closer to your vision?
Express your branding through different channels, like identity design ( logo, color pallet,visual style).
All visual identities should be derived from your branding and need to hold true on their own. It needs to relay to your target customers that what they believe what you believe. What they value is what you value. It needs to induce the feeling of trust and the subconscious will do the rest and associate it with your company.
Here is an example of how to express your company values through visual identity, that will adhere to your branding and to the “list of feelings” you want to evoke in people.
You’re a company that makes cakes. Cakes are already hard to advertise, as the main attraction point is in taste. You can say that your cakes are sweet, tasty and try to appeal to different customers by having different flavors. But so are all the other cake companies around the world. So how can you fish in the same lake as all the others, but catch more fish?
One way is to have a different approach to classic advertising.
Even the most simple image can tell a great deal about what your company stands for.
If you advertise with this image alone, it doesn’t say much about who your company is. Yes, it depicts a huge cake, that looks great and possibly even tastes great, yet it’s not related to your brand.
Only if your brand revolves around making big things?
Adding some captions would help with the message you are trying to spread. Some variations:
- Best sight after a long day.
- Happiness in 3 layers.
- Green and healthy – thinking about your future.
Note how these are not:
- Low calories!
- Great tasting!
- New flavor!
The last 3 examples are more informative and yes, can and will work for some customers. But not in the brand-building, long-lasting, loyal customers scope that we’re talking about.
With or without a caption, this illustrative ad would appeal to a group of people that share the same views as the company.
It would not be intended for everyone and some may walk away even if they were previously customers. That is because those people did not share the same set of values and beliefs as the company from the get-go.
Otherwise, if your company is just starting or has not yet taken off, these types of ads will only attract those customers you want with you and who you trust will be there as a result of having the same core values.
Like the previous example with Nike and Colin Kaepernick, this one will address a polarizing topic and will subsequently draw one side closer while possibly alienating the other. However, this is more and more often the intended result as cmpanies tend to lean more to a loyal customer base than one-time-buyers.
Quality over quantity.
What happens if your branding is not properly brought to the customer? Or if you actually provoke a different feeling than the one intended?
Apple is again a good example. In the period when Steve Jobs was not at Apple (1985-1997), the company took a nose-dive in market share and losses started piling up.
Failing to properly capitalize on the existing brand image was definitely not the the only cause of the steep descent for Apple, but the rise-again when Jobs returned was in part due to the company also returning to its initial values, vision, and goals.
How can a strong brand help your business?
You’ll likely see an increase in recurring customers that will then lead to a more predictable income. If people start trusting your company to have the same values in the years to follow, they’re more likely to stay with you for the journey and not be a one-time-buyer.
What does it look like when you succeed at creating a strong brand?
Best case scenario, your company name becomes a verb.
- Search it on the web = Google it (definition)
- That’s faked = That’s Photoshopped (definition)
- Let’s have a call online = Let’s Skype (definition)
Or, people end-up associating your company name with one of its core values.
- Mercedes = Luxury, Exclusivity
- Red Bull = Competitiveness, Sports
- Red Cross = Aid, Health
In the end, is building a strong brand and following through worth the hustle?
Knowing who your company is and sharing this knowledge with potential customers is only going to help it flourish.
To see if it’s really worth it, have a look at your company and find out what feelings it evokes in your customers. If you don’t like what you find or expect better, consider a different approach.